By Holland Cooke
NASHVILLE — The NAB/RAB Radio Show is underway today in Music City, but several hundred of us arrived a day early for Tuesday’s Radio And Internet News event. Some attendees I spoke with came only for the RAIN conference, a full day agenda on state of the art in Internet-delivered audio.
“Embrace the future!”
RAIN publisher Kurt Hanson’s State of the Industry presentation summarized Edison Research and other data I’ve covered here; and he urged that broadcasters show up everywhere listeners now use to consume audio. Use is migrating from “single-purpose AM/FM receivers to multi-purpose connected devices.” 1 of every 5 audio minutes are now heard via smartphone.
So think beyond the average 1.9 radios per household (2.9 in 2008). Hanson says deliver to phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, Internet-connected TVs, and digital concierge devices like Amazon’s Echo and Tap. After all, one third of the Millennials we hear so much about have NO radio in-home. More on them in a minute.
50% of the USA population listens to online audio weekly, with an average Time Spent Listening of 12 hours. At the present rate, online will catch-up with on-air listening by 2020. Factors driving growth include:
- Wireless earbuds, “a breakthrough” in Hanson’s view, with headphone cords “the biggest impediment” to listening.
- Data plans that are unlimited, or “essentially unlimited, it’s almost impossible to use up all the data in your plan.”
- And “voice control is big.” Various RAIN speakers see it aiding discovery of online audio content.
21% of Americans listen to on-demand audio monthly, 13% weekly, “still the early days” Hanson reckons. Or as Triton Digital’s John Rosso put it, “we’re still singin’ the anthem. We’re not even in the first inning yet.” Rosso was among panelists moderated by another radio executive who’s gone digital, Steven Goldstein, who asked “What’s Next?”
Clearly it’s ad revenue, and Acast Commercial Director Sarah van Mosel told us that early-adopter advertisers “have seen brand lift” in follow-up research. “Advertisers are coming back because they’re getting return on their investments” according to audioBoom VP Brendan Regan. Rosso admits that audience size remains an accountability issue, but calls podcasting “a very effective medium;” because – as DGital Media’s Brian Landau chimed-in — podcast listeners are “super-fans.”
Two ways podcasting isn’t just radio not-live.
- Most times, it’s almost-live. Research demonstrates that 75% who download a podcast listen to it immediately.
- Sarah van Mosel says “We will not run radio ads on our shows. Radio creative doesn’t sit well in the podcast environment.” She recommends “podcast-specific creative;” a recurring theme at RAIN Summit. Exploit the bond between host and listener, and tell advertisers’ stories in a personal, succinct way, rather than radio’s typical pitch.
- Ditto program content. “Start short, and earn that audience,” says Panoply’s Brendan Monaghan. “Maybe 20 minutes, then, over time, longer.” Based on data from his company’s player, “after about 40 minutes, people start leaving the show.”
“Anyone who’s tied to one platform will be very sorry.”
Audible SVP/Original Content Development Eric Nuzum also came from radio, he was NPR’s VP/Programming. But now “I consider myself ‘an audio maker.’ Sometimes my stuff ends up on the radio, sometimes it ends up in a stream, sometimes it’s a podcast. Platform is an outlet. I never, in my career, want to be tied to one platform.”
Like smart broadcasters, he figures “if somebody’s listening, I want to know:
- who they are,
- when they listen,
- what else they listen to.”
It’s axiomatic that radio is “an intimate medium,” which Nuzum says “people use as a way to be informed and engaged about the world.” And “people use Audible to escape the world, an even more intimate experience.”
He described “two worlds of podcasting:”
- There are “the professionals, “ whose work, like on-air programming, is polished. But that performance level isn’t a barrier to entry; and broadcasters shouldn’t dismiss outsiders’ work.
- Topic-oriented “communities coming together” are also driving podcast growth, with rough-hewn work. “I could go backstage now and record a podcast on my phone.”
“The only reason I listen to radio is that there’s a CD stuck in my CD player.”
18-34s grew up without their elders’ lifelong AM/FM habit. Still, Millennials are the biggest generation in history. So the RAIN agenda included what’s become the obligatory mini-focus group of local college kids.
Even these young people – who happened to be media majors – don’t default to old-school radio:
- They gather daily survival information from social media.
- “I wouldn’t even know where to get an alarm clock.”
- Baby Boomers think buttons, they think apps. “It’s not like the radio you have in your car, but you can hear radio.”
- When big news breaks? “My first instinct is to Google it.”
Aside from the delivery platform, fundamentals are fundamental. Asked why he chose a media major, one thoughtful panelist replied “storytelling. We’re the only species that can write things down.” And spoken words aren’t the only content digital distribution is disrupting…
“If you’re making a dollar, pay us. If not, it’s promotional.”
Royalties are a never-ending issue for stations, and for non-broadcast music providers whose variable costs are punishing. Streamers seeking $120 a year hit-the-wall with consumers’ $24/year average music expenditure. Big Machine Label Group’s Scott Borchetta was among music execs appearing, and all complained about costs. While download bytes are easier to move than vinyl atoms, artists and composers and musicians and producers all command big bucks, and profits continue trending down.
Unsurprisingly, this label CEO thinks radio is wrong to play it safe favoring short playlists and established artists: “What you can’t do now, in this moment, is give up discovery. If people leave terrestrial radio, they may never come back.” Like stations, labels want to know “what the hits are and we want to know what the stiffs are.” But passion has waned, and there’s plenty of blame to go around: “Rock died because radio and records didn’t take care of it.”
“We try not to chase shiny objects too much.”
Tim Clarke’s title says a mouthful. He’s Cox Media Senior Director, Digital Audience, Radio. Fellow Digital Leadership Roundtable panelist James Derby of Federated Media says of his company’s 204 employees, “15 to 18” do digital; and others appearing also described ambitious new-platform HR. Yet for all the innovation described, panelists spoke in strategic terms.
In Clarke’s view, “the real power of Facebook is to cultivate a community there. It’s all about the relationship, and we get to rent that relationship to our advertisers.” Derby calls listeners who stream the station “ultra P1s, so we stopped giving it away and started charging for it.” Bonneville’s Mark Preston calls Social Media “a personal connection to our P1s;” and Derby says “we can now not-just-talk-to-people, we can pull information from them.”
- Clarke admits “we’re still figuring it out. Listeners want content on their timetable on the device they want it.” He chuckled that radio thinks it’s been “holding listeners hostage” with propositions like “listen at 8:10 or you’ll miss it.”
- Derby recommends offering on-demand show excerpts, “the interview [segment], not whole shows.”
- And panelists spoke of experimenting with podcast-only content. ESPN’s Patrick Polking also has a telling title: “Head of Digital Audio Business & Audio Strategic Development.” He explained how ESPN-W (for women) started as podcast, moved to on-air, has grown female audience. He also disclosed that “about 50% of” ESPN’s podcast listeners come via iTunes.
But WAIT…there’s MORE.
RAIN-goers got first look at some new Edison Research: “Share the Road: The Changing In-Car Audio Space.” And it’s not a convention without ubiquitous Washington attorney David Oxenford, whose “Legal Snapshot” was generous, and warrants a station staff meeting. Look for my notes from those sessions, and The Radio Show, all this week in Talkers and at RadioInfo.com. And follow my real-time Tweets from Nashville @HollandCooke.
Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet; and his “Grey is Gold” video is this month’s feature on TalkersTV.